6 common skin problems in cats

By: Tanya Debi

FlickrCC/Tam Tam Author: Canadian Living Credits: FlickrCC/Tam Tam


6 common skin problems in cats

By: Tanya Debi
We asked Dr. Elizabeth O'Brien, veterinarian at The Cat Clinic in Hamilton, Ont., about the various skin problems that she frequently sees in cats. Find out what symptoms to look for and how to manage a feline skin disorder if you suspect your cat is suffering.

1. Fleas
Tiny parasites that feed on the blood of your cat, fleas result in symptoms such as hair loss, itchy, irritated skin, and constant licking and chewing of the coat. "Some of the biggest flea infestations occur in indoor cats in the fall," says Dr. O'Brien. "The furnace kicks in and it's like spring again in the house; eggs start to hatch, and then you have an infestation."

To eliminate fleas, you should treat the cat with topical products, which will also rid the home environment of infestation, says Dr. O'Brien. "When your cat rolls around and sits on the couch, it will kill the larva, so you don't have to spray or fumigate anything."

However, she warns against the use of species-inappropriate products. "A lot of the topical products for dogs are toxic to cats. Even applying it to your dog with your cat in the area, can cause massive toxicity to your cat."

2. Ringworm
Contrary to its name, this condition is caused not by worms but by a fungal infection that can affect a cat's skin, fur and nails. Typically, red, dry lesions form on the cat's skin around its head, ears and legs, often causing the animal to become itchy.

Ringworm is extremely contagious and most commonly seen in kittens and younger cats, or those that have spent time in shelters, where they're at risk of exposure to infected hair and spores, says says Dr. O'Brien. Frequent stress is also a factor. "Any shelter setting is stressful for cats, and stress can bring out skin conditions like ringworm," says Dr. O'Brien.

3. Feline acne
Veterinarians don't know what causes feline acne, which affects only the chin and manifests as blackheads that can be as mild as one pimple or become severe enough to require medication. The good news is that it is not contagious.

"When cats have acne, they shouldn't have plastic food bowls, plastic water bowls or plastic toys, because acne can spread that way,” says Dr. O'Brien. “Sometimes that's enough to prevent it from reoccurring, but sometimes the infection is really angry and you have to treat it with anti-inflammatories and antibiotics."

4. Dry skin
Dry skin can look like flakes of dandruff on your cat's back and can indicate an underlying issue. "I always look for something going on systemically, metabolically," says Dr. O'Brien. "I would look to see if they have any diseases like kidney disease, inflammatory bowel disease or any internal parasites."

The second step is to look at the cat's diet. Dr. O'Brien suggests switching to a food that is higher in fatty acids, such as those that contain fish oil or flax oil, to give your cat a healthier coat. You can also add supplements to the animal’s diet. "You would add your omega-3s and omega-6s, which come in a liquid form and capsule form, where you open the capsule and put it directly onto their food," says Dr. O'Brien.

5. Lice
Cat lice, or Felicola subrostrata, can look like dandruff, but what you're seeing is the white louse eggs stuck to the hair. Some infected cats will experience itching and hair loss around the neck, shoulders, ears and legs. "Feline lice don't transfer to humans, and human lice don't transfer to cats," says Dr. O'Brien. However, lice can be passed from cat to cat, similar to the way lice are passed around among children.

Feline lice can be prevented and remedied with topical flea treatments, which will also kill the lice in the cat's environment.

6. Bacterial infections
These infections are often secondary to another skin condition, such as an allergy, explains Dr. O'Brien. "If the cat has an irritation from an allergy and keeps bothering it, the animal can get a bacterial infection."

The infection is usually red and itchy, and Dr. O'Brien says that sometimes the cat can become allergic to toxins produced by the bacteria; in those cases, the cat would need antibiotics and anti-inflammatories. "The other common bacteria infection can come from cat bites and cat bite abscesses, requiring immediate antibiotics," says Dr. O'Brien.

The best and simplest way to prevent any skin condition in your cat is to start with a good diet and a clean, low-stress environment.

For more tips on keeping your cat healthy year-round, check out these five ways to keep your pet healthy.
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6 common skin problems in cats